In the name of all that's holy, do not ask Judge Jim Thomas to show you his legal briefs.
Our reviews of Night Court: The Complete First Season (published February 2nd, 2005), Night Court: The Complete Second Season (published February 6th, 2009), and TV Favorites: Night Court (published April 5th, 2006) are also available.
Mac: Bull has got himself a girlfriend.
Night Court started out as a relative of Barney Miller, but it quickly established its own personality. The third season began by mourning the loss of bailiff Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond, My Favorite Year, who died between seasons). At the same time, the third season saw the arrival of Selma's replacement, Flo Kleiner (Florence Halop, St. Elsewhere) and public defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post, There's Something About Mary). In addition to the cast changes, the third season saw a gradual shift in the tone of the show, moving from a more-or-less realistic depiction of night court to a more madcap, anything-for-a-laugh tone. The evidence will show that Night Court: The Complete Third Season, despite a slow start, finally begins to evolve into a laugh riot.
Facts of the Case
NYC Municipal Court Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson, Dave's World) runs night arraignment court in which he sorts through the newly arrested, either by dismissing charges, handing out minimal sentences and fines, or remanding the case to a grand jury. He's ably assisted by court clerk Mac Robinson (Charles Robinson, Buffalo Bill), assistant DA (shameless womanizer and moral toejam) Dan Fielding (John Larroquette, Stripes), public defender Christine Sullivan, and bailiffs Bull Shannon (Richard Moll, Caveman) and Flo Kleiner. With them at his side, Harry is on a quest to make New York City safe for truth, justice, and Mel Tormé.
You get 22 episodes on three discs (recommended episodes are marked with an asterisk):
• "Hello, Goodbye"—Everyone tries to adjust to Selma's
Recommended episodes include "Dad's First Date," "Mac and Quon Le: No Reservations," "Best of Friends," "The Wheels of Justice," "Dan's Escort," "The Night Off," "The Apartment," "Leon, We Hardly Knew Ye," "The Mugger," "Could This Be Magic?," and "Hurricane."
The third season gets off to an uneven start, as the show struggles to incorporate the two new characters. Florence Halop's Flo hits the ground running—although the physical similarities between Flo and Selma are apparent, Flo is more in your face. Halop does a solid job, and it's a shame that she would succumb to breast cancer within a year, opening the door for Marsha Warfield's Roz in the fourth season. Markie Post has a harder time with Christine, mainly because the writers don't define the character well. Initially, she's defined by her inexperience; it isn't until next season that her general prudishness turns up. The Christine of the later seasons would never have worn the costume Christine wears to Harry's party in "Halloween, Too"—not that I'm complaining, mind you.
The early episodes are a bit uneven, as though the writers are trying too hard. The tone is uneven, and "Halloween, Too" is a bit too similar to Season One's "Harry and the Rock Star." However, around "The Wheels of Justice," the season hits its stride, managing to balance genuine pathos with total absurdity. That episode also introduces the Wheeler family, led by patriarch Bob Wheeler (Brent Spiner, Star Trek: First Contact). The Wheelers—who make the inhabitants of Dogpatch look like urbane socialites—made such an impact that the governor of West Virginia wrote to NBC complaining that the Wheelers depicted West Virginia in a bad light.
So when the Wheelers resurface in the season finale, they reveal they aren't from West Virginia after all, but Yugoslavia. They were ashamed of their heritage, and when immigration asked where they was from, Bob said West Virginia because "it was the first exotic place I could think of." (The court approves tweaking the West Virginia governor's nose in this fashion.) The Wheelers turned up periodically during the fourth season, and were set to become regulars in Season Five—until Spiner was cast as Data.
Acting is good across the board. The show gets particularly good performances from the guest stars, from veteran character actor Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) as a judge suffering a breakdown to Susan Ruttan (LA Law) as an evicted mother to Carl Ballantine as one of Harry's boyhood idols fallen on hard times. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) turns up as a troubled defendant.
Video has improved over the previous releases; the colors are more vivid, though the flesh tones seem just a little off (probably the makeup). The sound gets a clear stereo mix; for the episodes, the stereo mix really doesn't add much, but the theme music gets a nice punch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No extras. Not a one. Not an interview, commentary, or photo gallery to be found. This will not do. To paraphrase Bull, "I WANT SOME EXTRAS, AND I WANT THEM NOW!!!"
The show is at its best when it abandons pretense and embraces the silliness; it's at its worst when it tries to make a serious point. A example of both is "Dan's Boss"; at either end of the episode is pure, unadulterated, non-PC snark as Dan lays into Vincent Daniels with unabashed glee, but sandwiched in between is an Afterschool Special Moment as Daniels, for no particular reason, sits down and tells two complete strangers (Harry and Dan) about his terrible childhood as a little person. The tone is completely out of whack with the rest of the episode, and is a ham-handed way to Teach Dan a Lesson.
Provided that you can ignore some of Christine's outfits (we're talking NFL-grade shoulder pads), the show has aged fairly well. I loved the show back then, and while some of the warts are a bit more noticeable than they were then, the show remains one of the court's favorites.
Just as an aside, I've long suspected that Mac's endless series of cardigans is a veiled poke at Bill Cosby's endless series of sweaters in The Cosby Show.
Night Court is acquitted of all charges, but Warner Bros. is hereby warned that if they don't scrape up some extras for the next season, they'll be looking at a hell of a lot more than fifty dollars and time served.
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